I wasn’t raised in a Christian home, so I didn’t grow up hearing about the God I now call Father. To me, God was just an abstract concept or idea, and church was mostly a place where Korean families got together to gossip about college acceptances and share strategies on conquering the SAT.
My parents never told me about the God who says “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” but, like many children, I certainly knew what it meant to be forsaken.
At the age of 9, my father left our family and wouldn’t return (besides an annual visit or two) for the next twenty years. His absence became the new normal, and I came to idolize the idea of the “picture-perfect” family.
But all of that changed when one day I saw Jesus.
I didn’t have a vision or a dream. No, this was something much more real.
By the time I was 13, I had been going to church for a few years through the invitation of a friend. My thoughts on church hadn’t changed much. I endured the sermons and Bible studies until the main events of savory Korean lunches and post-worship socializing. God was still distant and abstract.
But at a time when I had no father figure in my life, when I was apathetic to the things of God, I saw him.
I remember the moment with unusual clarity. I had convinced myself that going to the youth group winter retreat was a good idea, even though I knew it would mostly be more of the same – sermons, bible studies, and Korean food.
On the last night of the retreat, after my youth pastor delivered a gospel message, he asked us all to pray to God to ask for forgiveness. I could hear some students weeping, and I was incredibly confused. What was I supposed to do? How could I ask God for forgiveness when I didn’t know who he was?
Then, to my surprise, my youth pastor came and laid his hand on my shoulder and began to pray for me. He cried out to God on my behalf, and I was shocked. Why would he do this? Though I had never shown him much respect, he chose to come to me and pray for my sake.
My pastor was a man who embodied the pattern of Christ’s death and resurrection in his life and ministry. I saw Jesus that day in the way he sacrificially extended fatherly care for me at a time when I had no father. Through this act and many more, I came to see my Heavenly Father who says, “I will never leave you.”
Paul’s Life and Ministry
The idea that we might show Jesus to others is not a novel concept. Though we are familiar with Paul’s encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road, we forget that Paul actually met Jesus much earlier.
Acts 7 tells us that when Stephen, the first martyr of the church, was stoned by the religious leaders of his day, he called out,
Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them. (Act 7:58-60 ESV)
Stephen’s cry and plea echo the words of Jesus on the cross. Acts 8:1 says Saul approved of this execution, which is why Jesus on the Damascus Road asks Paul, “Why are you persecuting me?” and not “Why are you persecuting my church?” The church serves as the witness of Christ. Paul would come to know the experience of Stephen later in his life, leading him to write,
We who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. (2Co 4:11 ESV)
As I wrote in an earlier post, God is doing a work of sanctification through your everyday trials to make you look more like Jesus. The purpose of that sanctification, as Paul says here, is so that others would see Jesus manifested in our lives.
The Example of Monty Williams
I was struck this past week by another example of this in the life of Monty Williams, the assistant coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder. A little over a week ago, his wife of twenty years was driving in her SUV with her three children on a 45 mph road when another woman in a car driving 92 mph struck her SUV. She died soon after at the hospital.
What would you do if you were Monty Williams? What would you do when you got that phone call? “Your wife is dead, your three children are in the hospital.”
Less than a week after the event, before more than 900 people including NBA players and coaches, Monty Williams gave his wife’s eulogy and quoted from Rom 8:28. God is working all things together for good, even this tragedy. And, to the astonishment of the watching world, he forgave this woman who had killed his wife.
Monty Williams, in his greatest moment of suffering, showed love and forgiveness to this driver. He was carrying the death of Jesus in his body (2 Cor 4:10) so that he might show the life of Jesus to the world.
Who in your life needs to see Jesus?
St. Francis of Assisi has been famously misquoted as having said, “Preach the gospel. Use words if necessary.” While super-smart fact-checking Christians are right to point out that he never said this, and that it is necessary to use words to preach the gospel, some of us would do well to remember that it usually takes more than words before someone turns to Jesus.
The world will not be won over to a Savior who exists only as an abstract idea and not a flesh and blood person who lives in and acts through his people. God is committed to transforming you into the image of Christ (2 Cor 3:18) so that you might not only tell others about Jesus, but also show him to the world through the way you choose to carry your cross and extend love, especially to those whom are hard to love.
I saw Jesus through my pastor, and through countless other faithful Christians who died to their own desires to live for others. How might you do that for someone else this week?